Creating memorable holiday rituals: 5 simple tips

I have two young children, a two year old and a new baby. Neither my partner nor I have fond memories of holiday celebrations to bring to our new family. We have decided that we want to make our holidays memorable. How can we begin to establish family rituals surrounding the holidays?

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Meaningful, enjoyable rituals are very important to the family. Satisfying family rituals are the glue that holds a family together.

The following guidelines can help you develop your own special family rituals, whether they are daily practices or holiday ceremonies.

Set the tone

For Christmas you may want to establish a theme of "joy." Telling the Christmas story may spark a young child's interest. You may want to ask your own family members what they are grateful for find joyful in their lives. Passing a candle around the table as each person speaks can ritualize and focus attention on that person. Music may also help to impart special meaning and spirit to your family atmosphere.

Get everyone involved

Shopping for the food, making the holiday dinner, setting the table and cleanup should be shared responsibilities. A special shopping trip to gather the food and assigning responsibilities can help make your holiday a family affair. Feeling responsible for the creation of the ritual, strengthens each family member's bond.

Don't forget extended family and friends

Connection to community is one of the key elements of a successful family ritual. The holidays are an excellent opportunity to invite special friends and relatives to contribute to your family's event. Other activities, such as helping at a soup kitchen, or donating food to others in need can also reinforce your family's connection to a greater whole.

Give it time

Remember that rituals are defined by repetition. It takes three times for a family event to become a ritual, with a spirit of its own, in your family. When a ritual is truly established, all members take ownership for its continuation. This ensures that even when a family ritual is missed in one year, another family member insists on it the next. Not only do these rituals have to be repeated, but they must also reflect the needs of your growing family. Responsibilities may shift over the years. It is possible that your teenagers will do the cooking in years ahead.

Take a second look

A willingness to be flexible assures that the ritual remains intact and meaningful to all of its members throughout the years. If your family event is dull or doesn't impart the positive experience you desire, don't despair. Simply ask yourselves what is missing, or what changes are needed to create meaning and connection. If your little ones are bored by the length of time the turkey takes to cook, what about initiating a change, like a nature walk or family game as a part of the holiday festivities?

Family rituals are a work in progress. It's natural for stresses to occur. Keep in mind that your overall goal is to enjoy the experience so that family members want to spend time together.

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